The North Carolina General Assembly has traditionally convened a regular session in each odd-numbered year and adjourned after passing a budget in the summer. It would then return the following year in May for a “short session” to consider potential veto overrides, redistricting and outstanding bills that “crossed over,” meaning bills that received positive votes in one chamber.
However, following the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, which demanded emergency legislation and multiple allocations of federal relief funds, General Assembly sessions have become longer. On Nov. 29, the legislature officially adjourned the 2021 legislative long session. The General Assembly resumed on Dec. 30, but only for a series of procedural sessions, gaveling in and out with no votes taken. As redistricting lawsuits continue to work their way through the courts, the start of the short session remains on hold.
Bills the legislature passed during the 2021 regular session that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed are eligible for potential veto overrides in the short session. The governor vetoed 16 bills last year; the legislature attempted to override one but was unsuccessful. After the legislature adjourned on Nov. 29, Gov. Cooper vetoed four bills, including measures that would move up the deadline to return an absentee ballot and prohibit counties from accepting money from private entities to conduct a public election. None of Cooper’s vetoes have been successfully overridden since the 2018 election ushered in enough Democrats to both chambers to prevent Republicans from having the three-fifths majority needed for an override.
Like bills that “crossed over,” bills that received a vote of nonconcurrence — meaning one chamber did not concur with the amendments or committee substitutes to a bill after it crossed over, and the bills subsequently were sent to a conference committee — are also eligible for consideration during the short session. Bills in conference committees are worked out by conferees appointed by the leaders of both chambers and are typically members who have been involved with the bill’s progress. Currently, there are nine bills in a conference committee, which can be viewed here.
Medicaid Expansion Commission
A top priority for North Carolina Democrats did not end up in the final budget passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor this year; however, it is not the end of the road for Medicaid expansion.
While the budget does not include expansion, it does create the Joint Legislative Committee on Access to Healthcare and Medicaid Expansion. The committee is made up of nine members appointed by Speaker of the House Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and nine members appointed by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).
The nine House members appointed to the committee are Rep. Kristin Baker (R-Cabarrus), Rep. Wayne Sasser (R-Stanly), Rep. Donna McDowell White (R-Johnston), Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort), Rep. William Richardson (D-Cumberland), Rep. Brian Farkas (D-Pitt) and Rep. Charles Graham (D-Robeson). Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth) was appointed co-chair and Rep. Larry Potts (R-Davidson) was appointed vice chair.
On the Senate side, the nine members appointed to the committee are Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), Sen. Danny Britt (R-Robeson), Sen. Lisa Stone Barnes (R-Nash), Sen. Kevin Corbin (R-Macon), Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake), Sen. Kirk deViere (D-Cumberland) and Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham). Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) was appointed co-chair.
The committee will study various ways to improve access to healthcare and health insurance for North Carolinians, including, but not limited to, Medicaid expansion. The committee will meet this year during the interim and will be allowed to propose legislation.
Expansion was a key sticking point between Gov. Roy Cooper and legislative Democrats and the Republican-controlled legislature during the 2019 budget negotiations. Since then, a handful of legislators previously opposed to the idea of expansion have altered their position, including Sen. Berger, who recently stated he is “open to considering” expansion. The committee’s discussions around expansion, or other potential alternatives, as well as any proposed legislation that comes from the committee, will certainly be top of mind for many during the short session.
A bill that would legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes in North Carolina, SB 711: NC Compassionate Care Act, cleared several key hurdles in the Senate during the long session. While SB 711 did not ultimately make it out of the Senate, the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), being the powerful Senate rules chair may be enough to keep the bill moving during the short session.
Recognizing the controversy and the need to clearly define and regulate medicinal cannabis use, Senate lawmakers assigned the bill to be heard in four committees total before it could make it to the floor for a final vote. If the bill were to become law, it would make North Carolina one of the most tightly regulated states for medical marijuana use.
SB 711 would legalize the use of marijuana for specifically defined debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other end-of-life conditions. The bill would also establish two advisory boards — the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, which would be able to add other serious medical conditions to the list of approved conditions, and the Medical Cannabis Production Commission, which would regulate licensure of producers and suppliers.
North Carolina would offer only 10 supplier licenses, and each supplier would be authorized to operate, at most, four dispensaries. Dispensary licensees would have to meet certain performance requirements, licensees would have to comply with strict marketing regulations, and the UNC System would be responsible for conducting research on the effects of medical cannabis.
Much like the bill to legalize medical cannabis, a bill to legalize sports wagering, SB 688: Sports Wagering, was introduced in the Senate last session. The bill passed out of the Senate in August, with the help of 17 Democrats and nine Republicans, including Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick). In early November, the House Commerce Committee approved the bill and referred it to the House Judiciary 1 Committee.
The bill has the support of powerful House leaders as well. Appropriations Chair Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) is a manager of the bill in the House. He told Spectrum News in November that they are not rushing the measure and that the bill will still be eligible for consideration in the short session.
Also, like the medical cannabis bill, the measure includes strict regulations for sports wagering. The North Carolina Education Lottery Commission would issue no more than 12 operator licenses, at $500,000 per application fee for a five-year license, and a $100,000 renewal fee. Licensees are permitted to set up online apps, as well as an in-person betting location within a professional sports arena or where a professional golf event is held. Online operators would be required to ensure a user is at least 21 years of age before the user can wager on any event. The most recent bill text calls for the state to collect 8 percent of a licensee’s revenues, with half of all proceeds going to a special fund to attract sporting events and attractions to the state.